PORTLAND, Oregon — On Friday, the Oregon environmental officials increased protections for the marbled murrelet, a small seabird from the North Pacific known as the "enigma of the Pacific" because it lives and hunts in the ocean but nests far inland in the high canopy of mossy, old-growth forests.
The 4-2 vote by the Oregon Commission on Fish and Wildlife to boost the relative of the puffin from threatened to endangered status under state law was the latest development in a long-running debate about how to manage a secretive species that breeds in dense Pacific rainforests that are also prime logging grounds.
State environmental officials must now draft guidelines for ways to maintain bird population numbers, including possibly limiting logging in nesting areas owned, managed or leased by the state.
Logging interests reacted with dismay, calling the move premature and a further blow to their industry. Timber harvests, once a powerful economic engine in the rural Pacific Northwest, have declined dramatically since the 1990s because of protections for the marbled murrelet and the spotted owl.
The bird is a member of the auk family. It nests in old-growth forests or on the ground at higher latitudes where trees cannot grow. Its habit of nesting in trees was suspected but not documented until a tree-climber found a chick in 1974, making it one of the last North American bird species to have its nest described. The marbled murrelet has declined in number since humans began logging its nest trees in the latter half of the 19th century. The decline of the marbled murrelet and its association with old-growth forests, at least in the southern part of its range, have made it a flagship species in the forest preservation movement. In Canada (north of 50° North Latitude) and Alaska, the declines are not so obvious because populations are much larger and the survey techniques have not had sufficient power to detect changes.